Witness for the Scumbag

Let online pedophiles find us

But it still leaves one feeling ethically dicey. It's one thing to step in if a real child is in danger; there have been cases in which children who have been contacted by pedophiles online have been replaced by cops at the keyboard. But it's another thing entirely to create a child out of whole cloth and dangle them enticingly online to troll for predators. In essence, the police are manufacturing a crime, and that's where the issue of entrapment comes in.

Legally speaking, entrapment depends on whether the accused was predisposed to commit the crime. In other words, if a cop posing as a child simply shows up in a chat room and is immediately glommed onto by a user who starts asking all sorts of personal questions about sex, that would be a clear indication of predisposition—the guy was positively panting to contact a child online for nefarious purposes. But if the cop lists "sex" as one of his main preoccupations in his user profile, asks the target to e-mail him some child pornography, and suggests that they meet and get it on, then we have a problem.

Take the FBI's Innocent Images operation. Agents posing as children used suggestive screen names such as "horny15bi," listed sexual preferences in their user profiles such as "dreaming of kinky sex," and often responded to overtures from other users with sexually explicit messages. In a situation like this, one could easily argue that law enforcement is essentially creating a crime where none existed before—or would have existed, without their intervention.

It's hard to whip up much indignation in defense of alleged pedophiles. Child predators are universally deplored as monsters (except by the members of NAMBLA, and to hell with them). But it's important that we not let our instinctive disgust and our societal fear of the untamed beast known as the Internet lead us into trampling constitutional boundaries. What if law enforcement, flushed and giddy with the success of their pedophile stings, turns its attention on others?

"For the FBI to go in and entice people, masquerading in this game playing, this is likely to extend into other areas. I could see it very easily with the militia movement," David Sobel, legal counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Knight-Ridder newspapers.

So remember: we may consider child predators as the dung beneath our shoes, but there are folks out there who feel the same way about pornographers. Or atheists. Or (in OC) liberals. Even scumbags deserve our careful, vigilant defense.

Because who knows when someone else will decide you're a scumbag?

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